Northern business leaders warn minister over ‘crisis on our rail network’

Business leaders in northern England have warned the Transport Secretary there is a “crisis on our rail network”.

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Members of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership have written to Mark Harper warning that a “wave of cancellations is wreaking havoc on the Northern economy”.

They wrote that the reliance on drivers voluntarily working on their rest days to maintain TransPennine Express (TPE) services has contributed to hundreds of trains being cancelled in recent weeks.

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The group called on Mr Harper to give operators “the backing they need to negotiate a rest day working agreement”.

Disruption suffered by Avanti West Coast passengers due to many drivers not working overtime will “pale in comparison” with what will happen in the North if a deal is not reached by the time new direct services between locations such as Hull and Liverpool are introduced when timetables change next month, according to the letter.

It went on: “There is an issue which makes any promises of future improvements seem further and further away: the crisis on our rail network.”

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The letter was signed by bosses at nearly 40 companies and organisations, including Manchester Airports Group, Virgin Money, The Piece Hall Trust and Hybrid Air Vehicles.

A spokesman for TPE said it has suffered “prolonged disruption” from a range of issues, which include a training backlog and staff sickness.

He continued: “In normal circumstances we have enough people to fully operate our scheduled timetable – and have more drivers now than ever before – however the combination of factors has put unprecedented pressure on our ability to effectively operate our services.

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“Our customers want, and deserve, reliable and punctual train services, and we are sorry we have not been able to consistently provide that due to the ongoing issues.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “It’s unacceptable that poor levels of service and strikes are preventing hard-working people from going about their daily lives.

“The Government is investing billions into northern transport and is working closely with train operators to ensure new drivers are swiftly recruited and long-term solutions are put in place so passengers can travel confidently without disruption.”

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Mr Harper will meet several elected mayors from northern cities later this week.

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